Profile of a Charter Chef
I walked into Jim Ruch’s studio in Ft. Lauderdale to see black walls, a makeshift galley, guitar against the table, and framed photos and books of his heroes: Jerry Garcia, Michelangelo, and Lewis and Clark. On the wall was a big plasma TV showing his cooking video. He pointed to the oversized couch, where I sat, wanting to say like a talk show host, “ So, tell me, Jimmy… ”
Ruch was born in 1965 in the countryside of Norwalk, Connecticut. He was the youngest of four kids, the others being 2, 8 and 10 years older. His dad traveled, and his mum rebuilt boats — the smell of Butchers Wax always takes him back to being 5 years old — and she always kept a garden. His love for sailing started in his teens, when he began sailing on Long Island Sound aboard Lasers, Blue Js and Fireballs.
His love for food began at 15, when he was a waiter at Wee Burn Country Club in Darien, Connecticut. It had a classical kitchen with very formal service, and he spent hours watching the old French chef, Gerard, make demi-glace.
At the time, Ruch was registered to begin sound engineering, as he thought he wanted to be a rock star, but he went to cooking school instead. He moved to New York City at age18, a “ naïve and rosy cheeked ” teenager, where he attended a 10-week course at the New Restaurant School, which is part of the New School for Social Research. The instructors there were all classical, hardcore old chefs.
Ruch cooked for two years in the Duffont Restaurant at the Penta Hotel, with a kitchen that ran an entire city block, three floors below ground level. He also managed an upscale deli on Lexington and 52nd Street at the Wang Building; worked at the Lincoln Centering catering to ABC; and was employed at Burke and Burke, which had 18 locations.
In the ’90s, Ruch moved to Boston and worked at Seasons Restaurant for four years. One of the highlights here was preparing a 12-course, black-tie dinner for 80 people at the Spinazzola Gala Festival of Food and Wine. The meal took a week to prep, had a six man cooking line and required a huge amount of finesse and detail.
Shortly thereafter, he received a call that Liberty, a 70-foot, steel-hulled vessel traveling from Key West to Boston, needed a chef for two weeks, serving 10 people. “ First night out I fixed a nice spicy dinner and the captain said, ‘ No more gourmet spicy food. ’ ” After Liberty, Ruch met Amy Williams of Crew Unlimited and asked how he could get on a boat going to the Med. Williams told him that most chefs on these vessels were Cordon Bleu trained. So, Ruch took the logical action of one who aspires to be a yacht chef and enrolled in Cordon Bleu Culinary School in London.
When Ruch was ready for Williams, she got him his first yacht chef job on the 125-foot Palmer Johnson S/Y Astral, where he worked for three months. Next was a Saudi-owned 150-foot Feadship M/Y Faribana, which carried high security and expected high-end cuisine but, surprisingly, operated on an extremely low budget. Every day, Ruch cooked for 14 guests plus a crew of 10. Every day, they were in a different port and, because of the budget, he would have to provision every day. Ruch said he eventually found the best way was to follow the local ladies carrying shopping bags!
He did several seasons in the Med, one on the 140-foot M/Y Octopussy and one on the 160-foot M/Y Excellence II. He had two major “happenings” while on Excellence II: The yacht was meant to arrive in Sardinia at noon, where provisions for the second half of a two-week charter were to be delivered, but the boat didn’t arrive until 5 p.m. and there were no provisions — just a man waiting to take Jim provisioning! The second occurrance was more serious. Excellence II hit a swell, and Ruch received third-degree burns on his leg when 12 crème brulées slid out of the oven at 400 degrees F. (I never did find out what the guests had for dessert, but I did check Ruch’s leg and it is OK now!)
One of the most memorable parties Ruch cooked for was when Senator Ted Kennedy was hosting the President of Czechoslovakia for 400 guests. The most important thing he learned during his time at sea? Be flexible. “ Cook what the guests like, not what you like, ” he said.
After the Med season, Ruch returned to the States and released a DVD called “ One Pan Wonder ” in 2005. This production took two years and was filmed on Ruch’s 38-foot wooden boat Pajova, a Scottish fishing boat from Fyfe that he bought in 2000 and rebuilt with a custom stainless galley. This beautiful vessel is now for sale.
During these past years, Ruch built up a great network of boats as a freelance chef, giving him time to work on his other love: music. He is an accomplished rock guitarist and composer, having formed his first band in 1985.
When not on charter, Ruch enjoys biking and playing the guitar. Editing film on the computer is also up there, and his goal is to produce a HD cooking video for in-store supermarket promotions, along with special cooking classes.